How Using Your Hands Helps You Speak


One of the reason we use video in the All English program is because communication in English involves more than just knowing what words to say. One important element in communication is gestures. Speech and gesture go hand-in-hand. In fact, it’s almost impossible to speak without using your hands, even if you are talking on the phone!

A range of studies show a clear relationship in both comprehension and speech production.

You know from experience that it’s easier to understand someone when they use gestures or hand movements that supports their message. Research confirms what you already know. Second language learners improved twice as much in the understanding of some concepts when verbal instructions included gestures.

Of course, in the All English program we use gestures in a very specific way to enhance your understanding of English. We consciously make use of four types of gestures that accompany speech. These “co-speech” gestures include:

  1. Iconic gesture: gestures that represent object attributes, actions and spatial relationships, ex. explaining how to tie a shoe.
  2. Deictic gesture (pointing gestures): Gestures that connect speech to an idea, object, location or action, ex. “Watch out for that poison ivy!” (pointing)
  3. Metaphoric gesture: A gesture which conveys an abstract idea in a concrete form, ex. you are brainstorming and put your fingers to your forehead and then throw your hands out and open as you say, “I’ve got it!” as if you are throwing an idea to your colleagues.
  4. Beat gestures: Hand movements that accentuate or reinforce the rhythm of speech, ex. “You add ginger, lemongrass and basil” said as your hand flips outward as you say the name of each ingredient.

We’ll also use gestures that have a specific cultural meaning. These are not co-speech gestures. These movements (called emblems), such as the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘peace sign’, are hand movements are movements that are somewhat unique to English speakers. They communicate information independently of speech.

Like many of the language learning tricks we use, you won’t be consciously aware of the All English characters or your instructor using gestures.  However, it’s a powerful learning tool that will accelerate your progress and help you learn English faster.

It makes sense that gestures will help you understand what a person is saying, but did you also know that using hand movements yourself when speaking makes it easier for your brain to process language? Scientific evidence indicates that using gestures reduces the workload of of the part of the brain that processes speech. Because the All English program is so visual and shows real people in real settings, you see gestures used in a natural way. When you are repeating what the characters say, be conscious of not just saying the words, but try to imitate their hand and body movements.


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